published Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Smith: History revisited: Tell the truth about the war

Roger Smith

A fascinating and thought-provoking event took place in our city this weekend that focused on the single most important event in our national history — the War Between the States from 1861 to 1865. The symposium, hosted by the General Stephen D. Lee Institute, was titled, "The South Experiences the First Modern Total War."

A successful soldier, farmer and educator, Lee retired as president of Mississippi A&M University (now Mississippi State) in 1899. Afterward, he became president of the United Confederate Veterans, and in 1906, as many veterans were passing, he made a spirited speech at their annual convention, which included many sons of Confederate veterans. To those taking the torch from their fathers, he stated, "Remember, it is your duty to see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations." Obviously, the general was as concerned then about the misrepresentation of the Southern cause as many of us are today.

The symposium speakers were all outstanding scholars and writers in their fields, having doctorates in philosophy, political science and history. This was not a gathering of ideologues with inane shouts of, "The South shall rise again!" Such juvenile rhetoric fell on deaf ears long ago.

I'm sure my open-minded and politically self-righteous friends on the left are already screaming, "No, the war was all about slavery and the Southerners who defended that deplorable institution should have been killed and their culture destroyed!" However, anyone who grasps even a basic background of the War Between the States understands it was far more about Constitutional issues than it was about slavery.

Less than 11 percent of Southern men who fought came from families who owned slaves, yet they fought tenaciously. Why? They feared a tyrannical federal government that was usurping states' rights and their individual liberties. They were mostly subsistence farmers who would never have sacrificed their lives for a minority of wealthy slave owners.

In today's highly charged, culturally divisive environment, anyone who opposes the sanctimonious intelligentsia is derisively labeled a racist, bigot, homophobe, chauvinist or Bible-thumping religious fanatic, despite the power and truth of their argument. It is time to move beyond the name calling to serious discussions about our history and our future.

Our government is locked in divisiveness: red states vs blue states; liberalism vs conservatism; Christianity vs paganism; and socialism vs. private enterprise. The divisions grow while we as private citizens have less and less control of our government, no matter if we are Republican or Democrat. Both sides of the political class are increasingly beholden to big-government programs, special-interest groups, fighting wars abroad of no consequence and getting re-elected. We, the people, have no voice -- the deepest fear of our Founding Fathers and our Southern ancestors.

Simply dismissing our forefathers as an evil, racist and bigoted people who only fought to perpetuate slavery perpetuates a lie and does no justice to our democratic heritage. Symposiums such as the Stephen D. Lee Institute attempt to apply their values to American society today in a meaningful, positive way. The fact that such capable people are courageously speaking the truth instead of cow-towing to political correctness certainly gave me more hope for my children and grandchildren than anything I've heard from Washington recently. The alternative, as Santiago said, is, "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

Roger Smith of Soddy-Daisy is a frequent contributor to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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schizka said...

Tell The Truth About The War?

Sorry, but the truth has been told about the war. It's people like this writer who are trying to twist and control facts.

If there had been a stock market during slavery, the business of buying and selling human cargo would have been at the top of the market.

Only farmers went to war during slavery? Well, the majority of today's military are drawn from the working classes and poorest of Americans. But it's the wealthy, wealthy politicians and wealthy contracters who benefit from the war.

Then the writer goes on some insane/inane tirade bashing and blaming the left and liberals, then claim how divided the country is. Yet his own words are divisive and volatile.

Insanity? At its best.

February 18, 2014 at 8:41 a.m.
charivara said...

If you are peddling “truth” you can start by calling the Civil War for what it was: the War Against the Federal Government by Some States. It was all about states’ rights and individual liberties only if you believe in the right of a state to hold one group of people in slavery and denying them their individual liberties. Even after they lost the war, the condition or treatment of former slaves didn’t change much. Southerners weren’t going to abandon their states’ rights and phony defense of individual liberties justifications just because they got away with treason.

One could argue that most non slave holders fought in the Civil War because they were duped in the same way that today’s Southern workers are duped into voting against their self interest by the economic descendants of plantation owners. Southern wage earners haven’t learned much, that’s why they continue to be the lowest paid in the country.

Having a doctorate in history, philosophy or anything else does not guarantee open-mindedness, honesty, empathy, tolerance or any other human quality. Nor is it an inoculation against being an ideologue. And it certainly doesn’t confer ownership of truth.

February 18, 2014 at 10:42 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Hogwash, Mr. Smith! You act as if you are proposing an argument that we haven't already heard a zillion times before. This is just more of the same old same old that comes from you Constitutionalists and States' Rights fetishists. But no matter how you try to spin it, you cannot remove the prickly thorn of slavery from the recipe.

Anyone who has studied the war at all knows that slavery itself was not the de facto cause, it was the South's secession from the Union that prompted Lincoln to wage war. But why did the South secede from the Union in the first place? Because they cherished their way of life so much (and the very foundation of the Southern way of life was built upon the exploitation of an entire race of people - aka SLAVERY), and they hated Lincoln for the threat that he imposed to them and their way of life. The fact of the matter is that if the South had not seceded there would have been no reason for the war; and if slavery had not existed, the South would not have seceded. What's ironic is that if the South had not been so reactionary and impetuous as to secede en masse, they probably would have been able to maintain their way of life for many more years because, while Lincoln was opposed to slavery on principle he had no plans of abolishing it in the states where slavery was already legal.

As for your comment that only 11% of Confederate soldiers came from families that owned slaves, schizka and charivara both hit the nail on the head. As in most wars, the grunt soldier is fighting more on raw emotion and an inflated sense of fealty than on logic and a true understanding of the politics behind what's going on.

If you want to glamorize the Old South and pretend that Lincoln and the Union soldiers were the bad guys who destroyed the "right" of our forefathers to make money off the backs of black people who worked not only for nothing but in mostly inhumane working conditions, then go ahead and remain snugly ensconced in your illusory bubble. But the fact of the matter is that the South was on the wrong end of a moral issue, one in which civil rights trumps states' rights, and furthermore a permanently divided nation would have been unthinkable. Even though I'm a Southerner myself, born and bred, I have no regrets whatsoever that the South came out on the losing end.

February 18, 2014 at 11:58 a.m.
LibDem said...

If you would take the time to read "Confederate States of America - Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union", copies of which can be smuggled into Soddy Daisy, you will easily see that the War was 100% about slavery. South Carolinians of the 1860's were not as mealy mouthed as you, Mr. Smith.

February 18, 2014 at 1:49 p.m.
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